Social mobility and the public sector | Executive summary

Social mobility and the public sector | Executive summary

Executive summary

Over the last three decades, people around the world experienced significant improvements in living conditions alongside a large global economic expansion – but the distribution of these gains has been unequal. To combat this challenge, governments will need to work to generate the right regulatory environment, as well as adopting the right employment and diversity policies to set good standards in the labour market.

Dimensions of social mobility

There are a variety of dimensions of social mobility that extend beyond the typical distinction between absolute and relative mobility. The report explores the following aspects.

  • Life-course mobility: individuals can move up or down a social ladder in their lifetime; this is called intra-generation mobility. The report examines examples of these dynamics to show that social mobility is not static.
  • Educational attainment: this includes how well a child performs in school and what overall level of education they achieve, where both of these metrics are strongly related to family background. The inequality of family resources used to support children is a challenge for policymakers and the goal of providing an equal opportunity for success to all children.
  • The gender dimension: gender is one of the important dimensions that should be considered in shaping government policy for better social mobility. The World Economic Forum (WEF) publishes an annual report on the global gender gap, which benchmarks 144 countries on their progress towards gender parity across four thematic dimensions. Real progress is still required on economic participation and political empowerment.
  • The geographic dimension: the degree of social mobility is often considered at a national scale, but countries can exhibit considerable variation in mobility outcomes depending on where individuals live.
    It is important that governments not only consider top-line indicators of social mobility in their country, but also work to understand how particular areas within the nation are performing on different indicators of mobility.

Factors impeding social mobility

Income inequality and social mobility

There is evidence that inequality can exacerbate low levels of social mobility. Analysis by Miles Corak (2013) demonstrates that intergenerational mobility is worse than average in countries with high levels of income inequality, for a number of reasons.

Perceptions of corruption and social mobility

New analysis conducted by ACCA combines OECD and Transparency International data to demonstrate a relationship between perceived corruption and the degree of social mobility in a country. The results, both from 2017, show that as perceived corruption rises there is a corresponding drop in social mobility.

Headline findings from ACCA’s survey

In 2017, 13,653 ACCA members and students from around the world responded to a survey exploring issues related to social mobility. Of these respondents, over 1,300 were working in the public sector.

i. Strong support from finance professionals for social mobility    

Finance professionals working in any sector believe in equal opportunity for all: 92% of respondents stated that it was important that people should have access to career opportunities regardless of their social background. Public finance professionals were more likely than other groups to say that equal access was ‘very important’. Encouragingly, respondents from relatively privileged socio-economic backgrounds (“higher SEB”) were just as likely as others to say that they felt equal opportunity was ‘very important’ or ‘important’.

ii. Finance careers start later in the public sector

Public sector respondents started their finance careers later than their peers in other sectors. Two-thirds of respondents working in the public sector started their ACCA qualification when they were 26 or older – with the largest cohort starting in their late 20s. In comparison, respondents working in other sectors were much more likely to have started pursuing their ACCA qualification between the ages of 18 and 22.

iii. Public finance professionals come from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds

Public finance professionals were more likely than other respondents to come from comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds. These findings were consistent whether the definition of ‘disadvantaged’ was based on an assessment of the educational attainment of the respondent’s parent or guardian, or on the parent or guardian’s occupation.

iv. Accountants from relatively privileged socio-economic backgrounds more likely to be influenced by parents in their career decision    

Respondents from higher SEBs were more likely than their peers from lower socio-economic backgrounds to report that a parent had influenced their decision to join the accountancy profession.

The public sector and social mobility

Policy levers to support change

Though clearly there is no single intervention that can create an environment where everyone has equal opportunities, governments do have a range of policy levers available to them, from setting minimum standards in parental leave to education policy, which can influence the level of social mobility in a country. This report maps the dimensions of social mobility listed above (ie, education, gender, geography, life course) to corresponding government policies that should be considered for improving outcomes under that particular dimension.

Public sector as an employer

Alongside the policy levers available to government, it is also possible to create a more equal and accessible environment for everyone working in the public sector. Public sector employment can exceed a quarter of overall employment in many countries and this creates a unique opportunity for the sector to ‘lead by example’: embedding good practices that support equal opportunity and diversity.

Tangible steps for finance professionals

Professional accountancy can make a meaningful contribution to improving social mobility around the world – with public finance professionals playing a key role in helping to equalise opportunity. Practical steps suggested in the report include:

  • raising awareness: making the profession better known as a career choice
  • removing barriers: making qualifications and employment opportunities more accessible
  • addressing skills and the changing world of work: encouraging acquisition of basic skills and lifelong learning
  • collecting more data on social diversity.

ACCA’s capacity-building work

The role of ACCA in supporting the development of the global profession is a fundamental part of the organisation’s purpose. The report concludes by highlighting three capacity-building projects that ACCA is leading to help develop the global profession in Rwanda, Afghanistan and Vietnam.